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The Origin of Turn or Burn

Hell, fire and brimstone sermons were a common occurrence within churches in Europe and the United States during the 18th and 19th centuries. Some of these messages are in connection with the first and second great awakenings. When I grew up in the 1970’s, the church didn’t know how to handle the drugs, sex and rock and roll of the 1960’s. Subsequently, pastors began to respond to this moral decay in 1975 through their own verson of hell, fire and brimstone messages. However, one of the regular expressions I remember as a child was “turn or burn.”

For if we go on deliberately and willingly sinning after once acquiring the knowledge of the Truth, there is no longer any sacrifice left to atone for [our] sins [no further offering to which to look forward]. 27 [There is nothing left for us then] but a kind of awful and fearful prospect and expectation of divine judgment and the fury of burning wrath and indignation which will consume those who put themselves in opposition [to God], Hebrews 10:26-27.

This is the origin of turn or burn, scaring the hell out of anyone with a conscience. From my earliest recollections as a child, preachers would give altar calls nearly every week, with frightful teenagers running up front Sunday after Sunday. Fortunately for me, our Catholic Church started holding a special mass for young children in the basement which sheltered me Turn or Burn sermons. When pulpits forget how to share the gospel in a graceful and loving manner, people begin to leave the church which is what started happened in the United States at this time.

He too shall [have to] drink of the wine of God’s indignation and wrath, poured undiluted into the cup of His anger; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no respite (no pause, no intermission, no rest, no peace) day or night—these who pay homage to the beast and to his image and whoever receives the stamp of his name upon him, Revelation 14:10-11.

Last week, I was reminded of this Turn or Burn history within the church after reading the above passage. The context of this verse occurs in the end of days when the Anti-Christ is ushered into power and persuades the world to turn their worship away from God and toward him. Anyone who receives the stamp of the beast (666) on their hand or forehead will be banished to hell for eternity. This is a topic that most churches skip today to keep members of their congregation happy. Yet may today’s blog urge you to repent and make a U-turn back to God so your future fate is secure.

by Jay Mankus

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